Monday, May 26, 2008

Someone You Should Know - Molly Wismeier of Cenitare

One of my purposes with this blog is to profile individuals in the Chicagoland area who help make our wine encounters more enjoyable. While on a business trip in the Chicago suburbs recently, Molly Wismeier of the Cenitare Restaurant Group met me for an interview at the Westin Chicago North Shore. Ms. Wismeier was appointed Corporate Director of Wine and Spirits for Cenitare Restaurants in December, 2007. At the Westin, her restaurant responsibilities include Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood.

I wanted to learn a little about her responsibilities as a wine director and how her team of servers and sommeliers combine to enhance your dining experience. But our interview began on a bittersweet note; her publicist emailed both of us earlier in the day that legendary winemaker Robert Mondavi had passed away that morning. She had never met Mr. Mondavi, but she began our interview with a reflection on how he influenced her career, and many others:

"Going back thirty years, he helped me understand the position the U.S. has in the world of wine. He recognized the importance of place of origin; what wine will grow best in what places. He would take trips to France to see how how grapes were planted, what regions worked best for which grapes, how the soil was treated."

There have been many online tributes to Mr. Mondavi; here are a couple of my favorites.,1197,3817,00.html

Ms. Wismeier was originally an opera major, eventually receiving a degree in Russian studies. She believes all the experiences she has had, not just the food and wine related ones, help make her better informed about wine.

"Food and wine together were always a central part of my growing up. My grandmother brewed her own beer and I was always exposed to fresh local products, beer, bread, watercrests. As you expose yourself to these different experiences, your palate becomes stronger."

After working as Julian Schnabel's personal assistant (he directed last 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), she worked her way up through several restaurants in Denver and at the University of Iowa). It was at this point, she discovered her affinity for wines.

She stressed to me that a sommelier or wine director can't just understand wine, "You need to know about culture, history, language and the art of wine. And you have to keep studying!"

Her responsibilities now include overseeing the wine cellar of three restaurants, training all wait staff and sommeliers, purchasing of all wine and liquor and planning food/wine events.

"I want to give guests (she resisted the use of the word "customer") the best tasting at the best price. I also consider the cuisine of the restaurant, the season and of course, the taste profile and quality."

Her staff is always interested in learning from guests "what's the buzz", so please don't be shy about sharing your likes/dislikes with them. "Every bottle you open teaches you something about the next bottle", according to Ms. Wismeier. "Don't be shy, just relax and express what you really like. The sommelier is translator, who will guide you to what is on our list."

ChicagoPinot looks forward to future wine adventures at Ms. Wismeier's restaurants (they are currently working on several projects in Schaumburg and Rosemont).

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